The violent thunderstorms of the previous week diminished, but we are in troubled times, bad weather or no. COVID-19 seems to be overwhelming us all. It’s the main topic of every newscast and almost every discussion on Twitter, WhatsApp, everywhere. Meanwhile, a small asteroid will be passing quite close to Earth soon – read more here if you dare, and I think you can even watch it online. It will be closer than the Moon.
Agriculture: About 100 farmers islandwide will receive thousands of vegetable seedlings and fruit trees under the second phase of the Agri Resilience Response to COVID Project, funded by United Way of Jamaica and implemented by the Jamaica Agricultural Society.
Caribbean: The Royal Bahamas Defense Force called off its search for missing Haitian and Jamaican migrants on board a boat that capsized in the islands last weekend. 12 were rescued.
The Bocas LitFest (the first virtual one), celebrating Caribbean writers, was apparently a great success. In case you missed it, all the sessions can be found on the festival’s YouTube channel here.
In Dominica, an incident of “steam degassing” (gas and steam coming from the Soufriere area) has residents worried about possible seismic activity. Dominica has nine volcanoes, according to Reuters. However, a Government official who visited the area says there is nothing to worry about.
Corruption and Transparency: I interviewed Jeanette Calder of the Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal (JAMP) a few months ago; it is an amazing platform that encourages citizens to learn about and actively participate in their democracy. One feature of the JAMP platform is tracking the passage of bills through the Houses of Parliament. There are 37 proposed bills for 2020/2021. I would like JAMP to track: The National ID legislation – NIDS (of course). Minerals Industries Encouragement (Hmm)… Shipping Pollution Bill. Regulations and Codes of Practice for the Disabilities Act (why, why so long?) Milk River and Bath (Tourism). Sexual Harassment (for heaven’s sake!) and the Commonwealth Citizenship Act.
The nicknames are funny but the crime is far from it. A farmer who confronted “Ankle Socks” and “BlackBerry” as they tried to steal one of his goats was stoned and stabbed by the men, who were joined by a “mob” in Barrett Town, St. James. The men turned themselves in to the police later. I suppose the “mob” did not. Violence seems to be widespread in western Jamaica, as elsewhere, I suppose. A young man and his mother attacked a man at his workplace, last week. I suppose it runs in the family.
Kingston is not doing much better. Two motorbike riders exchanged gunfire on Wednesday near Devon House – on a busy thoroughfare and right in the middle of peak hour traffic. The police gave chase.
The police seized four home-made guns in Warsop, Trelawny and arrested a man.
Culture: Many congratulations to Jamaican film maker Gabrielle Blackwood, who won the Best Documentary prize for her film Unbroken at the Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival.
Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett has announced that Jamaica Carnival (postponed until October, 2020) will now take place on April 11, 2021. Yes, that exact date. Well, let’s wait and see…April still seems early.
A “dancehall reality show” from Toronto called Dancehall Divas had its first airing on CVM Television this weekend. I wonder how it will go down with local audiences.
I am not sure what is happening with our entertainment sector regarding COVID-19 protocols. At least two media houses reported that rapper Kanye West visited Buju Banton in his recording studio. West tweeted the photo below. It is not clear when he arrived, how long he stayed, or whether he adhered to COVID-19 protocols. The Prime Minister gave a vague response when questioned about it at today’s press briefing. He said he did not have details of the self-proclaimed anti-vaxxer’s flying visit to Jamaica, where he hung out at Buju Banton’s studio, sans mask. Police spokesman Dennis Brooks also gave a convoluted answer to questions. Clearly West did not do any quarantine. “There are different methods of gaining approval,” said Mr. Brooks. Sure, there are. Sadly, too, well-known music producer Barry O’Hare, who worked with several well-known musicians including Toots Hibbert, has died of COVID-19.
Education: The Ministry of Education has set up an Education COVID-19 Task Force. They are putting their best foot forward. Funds have been allocated to schools for reopening: Infant schools and early childhood institutions – $24.9 million; primary schools – $577 million; and secondary schools $3.4 billion. Having listened to the views of the Task Force, Education Minister Fayval Williams had a change of heart, and the process of assessing schools to see whether they will reopen on October 5 has been presumably set aside. They will all be online, at least for the time being.
Meanwhile, if we don’t do something about removing the exorbitant duties on computers, laptops, tablets etc. in the very near future, our educational system (and our economy in general) will flounder. It should have happened years ago, anyway. I had to pay a ridiculous amount of duty on a small, inexpensive Kindle (not the fancy version) recently.
On Tuesday, Minister Williams said that schools are to open on October 5, but face-to-face teaching is prohibited. Education will continue online, on television, cable channels, and radio. The Ministry will also provide printed materials and text books. Some 20,000 teachers have already been trained in online teaching and received tablets; Grades four to six will receive tablets, already ordered. More materials and electronic materials will be provided by Book Fusion, on the Ministry’s website. Meanwhile, GraceKennedy has generously donated over 200 laptops and computers to six schools.
Health: A COVID field hospital arrived, courtesy of the U.S. military’s humanitarian assistance program, and will be officially opened on Thursday at the National Chest Hospital in Kingston. Another 40-bed hospital will arrive for Mandeville, courtesy of the Canadians. Two more will be built at St. Joseph’s Hospital and another at Falmouth Hospital. This will add 152 beds for COVID patients.
President of the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association, Dr. Mindi Fitz-Henley, is worried about the increased numbers of hospitalized COVID-19 patients. She is also worried about burnout among JMDA members. Just over 100 doctors have been added to the current cohort but more are needed, she says, especially in Kingston and St. Andrew.
And, one continues to wonder about the enforcement of COVID-19 protocols – even our 8:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. curfew, which was extended to October 7 today. While our neighborhood is quiet after 8, I hear it is not so in other areas of Kingston. There are still too many reports of parties taking place – including a “set-up” for dancehall deejay Beenie Man’s mother, which was over the limit and shut down by the police. Are communities getting the message? Here is a piece in the Jamaica Star.
Radio talk show host Cliff Hughes focused primarily on the virus on his Monday morning show, which is well worth listening to. Nationwide News Network has a YouTube channel – a useful way to follow their programs, which are recorded there. Cliff interviewed Dr. Michael Abrahams – whose Gleaner column is a wake-up call, if we still needed one – after which Minister Christopher Tufton called in. What emerged at the end of the program was an uneasy feeling that in terms of communication and public relations, the Government is slipping. It is no good telling people that the steadily escalating number of new cases daily is “not important,” when the general public is worried sick about them – and about the rising number of deaths. The Ministries (not only Health and Wellness) need to recognize that anxiety and address it in a serious, empathetic way. Minister Tufton’s light-hearted laughter felt out of place at today’s press briefing.
Sunday was a record day, with 230 new cases and seven deaths from COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours. The youngest new case was apparently one day old, and the oldest 104 years old.
Meanwhile, we are losing some good people – all good people – to the virus, with several new deaths every day. On Sunday we learned of the passing of the Vice Principal of Kingston College, from COVID-19; and of Ms. Judith Sharras, a senior administrator in the Office of the Prime Minister. My condolences to the families, and to all who are grieving.
Human Rights: Supreme Court judge Justice Bertram Morrison has just handed down his written judgement from July that the detention of five men under States of Emergency (SoEs) was in breach of their constitutional rights. The SoEs were all lifted, just prior to elections. The Gleaner outlines the judge’s reasons here. Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte has indicated that the Government will appeal the ruling, because “it raises many important questions of constitutional law and procedure and we will have to seek guidance from the Appeal Court on it.”
Three police officers were to stand trial on Monday in connection with the death of Mario Deane, who died on Independence Day, 2014 after being beaten at the police lock-up in Barnett Street, Montego Bay. The three are charged with manslaughter, misconduct in a public office, and perverting the course of justice. However, the case was put off until January 18, 2021. How painful for Deane’s mother, Mercia Frazer, who looks increasingly weary but determined and still hopeful that justice will be done. One day. This is all tied up with the issue of jury trials, which have been suspended due to COVID-19. Chief Justice Bryan Sykes says bench trials will have to be the order of the day for now, asserting that the UK Privy Council had stated some time ago that “there is no right to a jury trial”. Interesting.
“It’s certainly not an ideal situation, but we are doing the best we can,” said State Minister in the Ministry of National Security Matthew Samuda. He was talking about COVID-19 cases in the prisons, with two cases confirmed at the Tower Street Correctional Centre. Minister Samuda pointed out that several staff members had contracted COVID, because they are “out there in the society,” even though visitors are restricted. Meanwhile there is a tremendous shortage of masks in the prisons.
Politics: Dr. DK Duncan passed away on Thursday morning from COVID-19. I tried to write a few thoughts about him in a previous post. A lot has been written and said about his life and legacy. His family said in a statement, “He was not afraid to challenge the status quo, speak his truth and stand for equality for all people. He was fearless in championing issues that affect the majority of Jamaicans that often feel they have no voice.”
Another former Cabinet minister, Robert Pickersgill, was hospitalized after testing positive for COVID-19 and was in intensive care on Thursday night.
The election cliffhangers weren’t quite over yet. The People’s National Party’s (PNP) Lisa Hanna held on to her St Ann South Eastern seat by a mere 31 votes, after a magisterial recount last Wednesday. The original margin was an even “merer” 14 votes, so she picked up a few; hardly a ringing endorsement. I hope she will do better for the constituency this time around.
The Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) Phillip Henriques defeated Richard Azan in North West Clarendon after a magisterial recount. It was a controversial election, in which many ballots were initially rejected. In the end Henriques won by 139 votes.
Meanwhile “Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition” remains in the doldrums, with letters flying to and fro. Party leader Peter Phillips has put together a Shadow Cabinet. Mark Golding, their Finance Spokesman, dropped heavy hints on Twitter that he is interested in the leadership (with support, apparently, from his former business pal and erstwhile leadership contender, Peter Bunting). One or two others may be positioning themselves to take over from Dr. Phillips. Let’s see.
Road Safety: It is so tragic that three more young motorcyclists have lost their lives. A 36-year-old labourer, Dellon Jackson, was killed in a collision with a car on the Mosquito Cove road in Westmoreland.
And a 23-year-old, André Carnegie, was killed on his motorbike in New Market Grove, St. Elizabeth. He crashed into a building after losing control.
A policeman, 29-year-old Kamal Foster, died when he crashed his Honda motorcycle into a car in Rock Hall, St. Andrew. How sad!
Slow down! A taxi driver lost control while taking a corner in Golden Grove, St. Mary on Saturday. Howard Lawrence, 41, from Portland, lost his life after he crashed into a ditch and a utility pole.
But the cheap Chinese-made motorbikes called “Yeng Yengs” are unpopular – not just because of the horrible noise they make, but also because people associate them with robberies and criminal activities in general. If you want them banned altogether, you can sign the petition here on the Office of the Prime Minister’s website! There are reasonably cheap, safe and environmentally friendly alternatives, I am told…
Sports: Jamaica’s Olympic double sprint champion Elaine Thompson-Herah ran a world leading 10.85 seconds today to win the women’s 100m race at the Rome Diamond League competition. Brilliant girl!
Tourism: I thought I misheard when Health and Wellness Minister Christopher Tufton said that the government is considering dispensing with requesting a pre-test for COVID-19 for tourists arriving from the United States. Is this going to happen? Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett (who is still talking about thousands of new hotel rooms to be built, including the sacrifice of pristine wetlands at Green Island, Hanover for 2,000 rooms) confirmed that this was his intention, giving tourists more freedom. 500 tourism “protective kits” will be distributed to frontline workers at the end of September. Look – 200,000 people have died from COVID-19 to date in the U.S. According to CNN, “coronavirus case rates are ticking up after weeks of decline.” A Tourism Advocacy Council is to be headed by Dr. Wesley Hughes – to “sell” tourism? To whom? Well, a big pat on the back to Minister Bartlett as the pension scheme for tourism workers is finally coming on stream on October 1.
Meanwhile, hotels have been advertising “rock bottom” prices to locals in an attempt to fill rooms. Even car rental companies are kindly promoting special offers to us lowly locals. And the ever-upbeat Tourism Minister is “cautiously optimistic” about the upcoming tourist season this winter.
Women’s Issues: Good news. Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia Grange says three national shelters for abused women are now complete – she has the keys – and that an agreement with an international agency will be signed shortly for their maintenance and upkeep. This is so very long overdue.
Our murder rate is still terribly high, moving towards 1,000 for the year. As of September 12 it was just 4 percent lower than the same date in 2019, according to the Jamaica Constabulary Force official figures. West Kingston and St. Ann have seen the biggest increases, but Clarendon has seen a substantial drop of 37 percent. My heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of all who have died in the past week…
44 year-old Marlon Graham, a driver with the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC), was shot dead on Spanish Town Road, Kingston early on Tuesday morning.
26 year-old Dwayne Dunbar was shot dead on Barry Street, downtown Kingston on Tuesday evening. A woman was also injured.
Stephen Hoffman, 25, was shot dead at a work site on Port Royal Street in downtown Kingston on Friday morning. Two others were injured.
The father of a Detective Inspector of Police, 67-year-old Clifton Green, died in Riversdale, St. Catherine; Minister of National Security mentioned his passing in connection with threatened violence against police officers and their families.
56-year-old Joycelyn ‘Longee’ Gidden, was found stabbed to death at her home in Christian Pen, St Catherine. Friends and neighbors are in shock.
A gang feud seems to have been the cause of three deaths in Southside, Central Kingston. One victim was 26-year-old Ras-Amigo McDonald, who was sitting on Harbour Street on Tuesday morning when he was shot dead.
60-year-old Zachariah Green was shot dead on Chancery Street in Kingston first thing on Tuesday morning.
Michael Francis, 28, and 38 year old bearer Kenroy Gordon were killed by gunmen, and two others injured, in Arnett Gardens, Kingston on Monday night. Isn’t 11 pm after curfew hours? If they had been at home…
On the same morning, 21-year-old Akeem Howard was shot and killed by unknown attackers in Canaan Heights, May Pen, Clarendon.
On Thursday afternoon, two sisters – Renay Martell, 23 and Tiffany Hunter, 31 – were shot dead in Mona Commons, St. Andrew (which is near the University Hospital of the West Indies). It was Renay’s birthday.
39-year-old Ryan Stevenson, a market vendor, was stabbed to death during a dispute in Montego Bay. The police seem to be moving fast at catching people, though – as they did in the case of the suspect in this crime.
23-year-old labourer, Raheem Walters was shot dead at Meggie Top, Salt Spring, St. James.
54-year-old Jean Jarrett, a shopkeeper of Red Dirt, Retirement in St. James was found dead, with hands and feet tied, at her home.
In St. Ann, Tyrone McFarlane was shot dead in Mansfield Heights. In Lower Buxton, Clifford Gallimore (allegedly a murder suspect) was also shot dead.
In Manchester, businessman 41-year old Danian Simpson was with his father at their business place in Williamsfield, Manchester, when they were robbed. During a tussle Simpson was shot dead and his father was injured.
This list is much too long.